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UPDATED: June 4, 2015 NO. 14, APRIL 2, 2015
The Right Verdict
Advancing the rule of law can help put an end to miscarriages of justice
By Lan Xinzhen

After an analysis of the wrongly judged cases, he said that setting deadlines for cracking cases was one source of the issue. In China, rewards and promotions are pegged to case clearance rates. While this incentive system can motivate people to investigate cases, it can also prompt a desire for fast convictions at the expense of judicial impartiality, He said.

Another cause is the investigation model that puts collecting testimonies before collecting evidence. After a case is reported, law enforcement officers usually do everything they can to capture the suspect, try their best to get his or her confession and then collect any necessary evidence. This will easily lead to inquisition torture, another important reason for wrongly judged cases.

Chen Ruihua, a law professor with Peking University, said that some law enforcement organs failed to follow the principle a criminal suspect being considered innocent until they can be proven guilty.

The police, procuratorates and courts should perform their functions in handling criminal cases separately, with investigation left to the police, prosecution left to the procuratorates and adjudicating cases left to the courts.

Yet proper procedures are sometimes not followed. For instance, courts often send other people to investigate the case together with the police and the procuratorates. A benefit of joint investigation is that a case can be cracked sooner, but the drawback is that it can give rise to erroneous judgments.

Closing loopholes

In February, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), SPP and SPC, released more than 200 reform measures to advance the rule of law.

Those adopted by the MPS cover seven aspects of public security work, including capacity building for the police. It is a comprehensive reform plan. The SPP spelled out 42 key tasks to improve the procuratorate system, with a focus on deep-seated problems undermining judicial justice. The SPC introduced 65 court reform measures in seven areas including restructuring courts. For instance, under the new rules, defendants will no longer be brought to trial in prison jumpsuits to prevent bias. The SPC has set a road map and time line for the implementation of these measures.

Rectifying wrongly judged cases has been included in the reform plans of the law enforcement, procuratorate and court systems. Both the MPS and SPP decided to set up a mechanism to retroactively hold those accountable for such rulings. The SPP and SPC also plan to respectively set up a disciplinary committee for procuratorates and judges, to punish violators of law and disciplines while ensuring their rights to defend themselves.

The SPC will strengthen oversight over the use of judicial and investigative measures that restrict personal freedom and set up a trial-centered litigation system.

The reform plan also emphasizes the principles of "judgment by evidence" and "innocent until proven guilty." It states that any illegally obtained evidence must be excluded from trials.

One of the main goals of the reform is to create a more independent legal system. The reform plan stipulates that if officials interfere with cases, courts should record this information and archive it.

Breaking the barriers down

Despite policy measures to rectify wrongful conviction cases, reform is still faced with obstacles, said Yan Jianguo, Director of the Legal Affairs Committee of the Central Committee of Jiusan Society, one of the eight other political parties in China besides the CPC. Yan Jianguo said that these obstacles should be removed as soon as possible to advance the rule of law.

Strengthening oversight and accountability would go a long way, suggested Li Rong, a member of the CPPCC National Committee.

"A law-based government should be a responsible one. Progress in advancing the rule of law should be an important measure of officials' job performance, and be linked with their appointment and promotion," Li said.

Li said that the NPC and the CPPCC should strengthen supervision over the government's policy-making, administration and law enforcement procedures, and hold officials retrospectively for their errors. He said that officials should be severely punished for dereliction of public duty or breaking the law.

The biggest difficulty in rectifying wrongful conviction cases lies in the police. For instance, after Zhao confessed in 2005, Hugjiltu was not been declared innocent until nine years later in 2014. The case was obstructed by Feng Zhiming, head of the Public Security Bureau in Xincheng District of Hohhot when Hugjiltu was detained. Feng was later promoted to deputy head of the Hohhot Public Security Bureau. Feng is under investigation for derelictions of duty, extorting confession through torture and bribery.

Cai Dafeng, a CPPCC National Committee member, believed that to prevent repeats of cases such as Hugjiltu's, investigation procedures need to be improved first. He proposed a law to govern the work of the police. He said it is important to improve the ethical standards and professional qualifications of law enforcement.

Copyedited by Kieran Pringle

Comments to lanxinzhen@bjreview.com

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